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Category Archives: Health

Bank holiday warning over gardening and DIY accidents

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With the bank holiday weekend coming, many of us may be planning to trim the lawn or do a bit of home improvement.

But surgeons have urged us to take care, saying there can be a spike in accidents involving gardening and DIY equipment at this time of year.

Severed fingers and broken bones are among the gruesome injuries one surgeon says she often encounters.

It comes as figures show there were 25,763 gardening and DIY-related injuries in England from 2014-17.

The accidents were caused by hand tools, lawn-mowers and other household machines and 90% of them involved men, figures released by the Royal College of Surgeons show.

‘I was in disbelief’

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Helen Langford had to have her middle finger and part of her ring finger amputated

Helen Langford, from Manchester, was injured last year in an accident involving a second-hand electric saw.

She had been cutting timber in her garage to make a side table when the saw slipped, cutting into four fingers on her right hand.

“It was horrific,” Ms Langford, 56, said.

“I didn’t realise exactly what I’d done. I wasn’t in pain, and I wasn’t in shock. I was in disbelief.”

She was taken to hospital after neighbours and a passer-by heard her screams, but in the end doctors had to amputate her middle finger and part of her ring finger on her right hand.

Since then, she has had to undergo months of physiotherapy – along with trauma counselling – to regain some use of this hand.

The injury, along with rheumatoid arthritis she’s developed in her left hand since the accident, means she can no longer play the piano, paint or do sculptures, which were some of her main interests.

Ms Langford added: “Without the help of my neighbours, this accident could have had an even more tragic ending.”

‘Lasting psychological impact’

Of hospital admissions for DIY and gardening injuries, 58% were between April and September.

Children and young people up to the age of 19 were involved in 2,082 of the incidents, with 397 of these involving those aged four or under.

But when it came to lawn-mower accidents, it was the middle-aged and elderly who were most likely to get hurt, with 58% of admissions being of 40-74-years-olds.

Prof Vivien Lees, of the Royal College of Surgeons, who works as a consultant hand and plastic surgeon, said this was typically one of her busiest times of the year.

She said: “Over the past 20 years of working in the NHS, I have treated patients who have suffered some very serious injuries – from severed fingers and broken bones to painful infections.

“These injuries often leave a lasting physical and psychological impact on their lives.

“Some of my patients have been unable to work after having an accident while making home improvements or gardening.”

Prof Lees added that people catching fingers on hedge trimmers was a common cause of injury, as were infections from thorn pricks from roses.

She urged to people to take the following precautions to avoid injury:

  • Read and follow instructions for electrical equipment
  • Use protective gear, such as gloves, helmet, or goggles
  • If machinery is not working, unplug it before you investigate what the problem is
  • Keep pets and children well out of the way when you are gardening, or using electrical equipment in the garden
  • Do not handle electrical equipment if you have drunk alcohol or are drowsy from taking medication

Tax rises needed ‘to prevent NHS misery’

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Taxes are going to have to rise to pay for the NHS if the UK is to avoid “a decade of misery” in which the old, sick and vulnerable are let down, say economists.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies and Health Foundation said the NHS would need an extra 4% a year for the next 15 years to keep going and improving.

It said the only realistic way this could be paid for was by tax rises.

It comes as ministers are arguing behind the scenes about NHS funding.

The prime minister has promised a long-term funding plan for the NHS.

This is expected to cover the next decade and could be announced as soon as next month, in time for the 70th anniversary of the creation of the NHS.

The Treasury is believed to want to keep average rises at about 2% a year, but other ministers, including Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, are arguing for more, the BBC understands.

If you can’t see the NHS Tracker, click or tap here.

As those discussions continue, the IFS and Health Foundation have revealed the findings of their review, commissioned by the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS trusts.

It warned the ageing population and rising number of people with long-term conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, meant the health service needed more than it had been getting in the past decade.

Since 2010, the annual rises once inflation is taken into account have been limited to just over 2%.

But continuing in this vein would lead to a continued deterioration in performance, the report warned.

Instead, it said, 5% extra was needed in the next five years, and then just under 4% for the following decade if it was going to improve.

That would work out at an average of 4% a year over the period, while 3.3% would simply maintain services.

On top of that, extra money would also be needed to fund council-run social care for the elderly.

That would mean spending as a proportion of national income rising from 8.4% currently to 11.4%.

The report said it was “hard to imagine” raising that sort of money without increases in taxes.

To increase spending by that amount, it would require rises of 3p in the pound on each of income tax, VAT and National Insurance by 2033.

Although the report said other options, including taxes on property and businesses, could be explored too.

NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson urged ministers not to rush into a quick fix, but warned any attempts to limit rises to 2% would backfire.

“It is now undeniable that the current system and funding levels are not sustainable,” he said.

The Department of Health and Social Care said plans were being ut in place to agree a multi-year settlement.

Meanwhile, a report from the Care Quality Commission on A&E performance warned that some patients received care that was “wholly unsatisfactory”.

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London Ambulance Service taken out of special measures

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Inspectors said the trust was “inadequate” in 2015

London Ambulance Service (LAS) has been taken out of special measures after two-and-a-half years, following a recommendation by the health watchdog.

Inspectors at the Care Quality Commission (CQC) rated LAS “inadequate” in November 2015.

But a CQC report published on Wednesday said LAS was “good” overall and is “outstanding” for patient care.

It said “innovative changes”, such as treating some patients over the phone, helped boost the rating.

The watchdog commended staff members’ responses to the Grenfell Tower fire, as well as the London Bridge and Westminster terror attacks.

Prof Ted Baker, chief inspector of hospitals in England, said: “The improvements the leadership and staff of London Ambulance Service have made are especially commendable – and especially necessary – given the major incidents the Trust has responded to over the past year.”

Dr Kathy McLean, from NHS Improvement, confirmed it has taken LAS out of special measures after seeing the report.

She said the Trust’s “strong leadership team” had helped to produce “a service that Londoners deserve”.

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Media captionAndy Beasley is part of the team that first responded to the London Bridge attack

Garrett Emmerson, who became chief executive of LAS in May 2017, said he was “delighted” by the report but recognised there was still more work to be done.

Mr Emmerson said: “We have made some big changes in how we operate, but I want us to improve even further, with the aim of being rated ‘outstanding’ overall, in two years’ time.”

Issues the CQC said LAS must focus on include:

  • Reducing staffing shortages in emergency operations centres
  • Improving recruitment opportunities for people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds
  • Reviewing the gaps in employees’ knowledge and confidence to deal with people having mental health crises

Toddlers to help dementia patients in Conwy restore memories

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Iolo Penri

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Peyton and Dot shared lunch during their time together

“It’s a cruel disease”, Sian Hanley said. Her mother, Mo, is one of a group of dementia patients taking part in a unique experiment in Conwy.

Mo, 83, and other patients at a day-care centre in Colwyn Bay spent three days with toddlers to test the potential for restoring memory.

Experts at Bangor University hope their observations could transform lives.

An estimated 45,000 people have dementia in Wales.

The condition has overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death in Wales and England.

Geraint Ellis, a senior care assistant at the centre, said people spent their lives putting a picture together.

“It’s like you’ve got your puzzle in front of you and you’re adding your friends and your family.

“And then dementia comes along and it doesn’t really discriminate and it just starts taking your pieces, and bits are missing and bits aren’t there anymore.”

Bringing older dementia patients and children together has been done before, but the psychologists and dementia experts at Bangor University hope their selected tasks can help restore memory loss.

Cake-making, singing and exercise were among the group activities.

Three year old Arianwen was among the children from a local nursery who took part in the experiment. Her grandfather had dementia, and her mother, Lowri, said the impact of children on dementia patients was “indisputable”.

“It is really profound. People who are living with dementia are going to get so much out of this.”

Prof Bob Woods, a psychologist at Bangor University, said: “What we want to do is to change the environment, so that they can engage, they can interact without failure.

“And in that way we can draw on the rich vein of expertise and experience and knowledge that’s still there.”

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Science Photo Library

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A diseased brain is shrunken and nerve cells are degenerated

Spotting the signs of dementia

  • Finding it hard to follow conversations or programmes on TV
  • Forgetting the names of friends or everyday objects
  • Cannot recall things you have heard, seen or read
  • Feeling anxious, depressed or angry
  • Finding that other people start to notice or comment on your memory loss

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Iolo Penri

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Mo, David, Arji, David, Peyton and Peter all took part in the experiment. Psychologist, Prof Bob Woods said the importance of a hug or a cuddle can make a real difference to people’s mood and well-being

Interaction and friendships are not easy for all of the patients. Prof Bob Woods said the research was ongoing, but that the children had made the real difference:

“They’ve given us all a new perspective, a new view on dementia. It’s really important to see the person behind the diagnosis.”

The Toddlers Who Took on Dementia is on BBC One Wales, 21:00 BST on Wednesday and then available on BBC iPlayer.

Is the UK the world’s biggest exporter of legal cannabis?

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Alfie Dingley’s family has paid for treatment in the Netherlands

As the UK hosts a summit on the state of medical cannabis in Europe, BBC Reality Check asks – does Britain really export more legal cannabis than any other country?

Pro-drug reform campaign group Transform says the government is denying that cannabis has medical uses while at the same time overseeing “the world’s biggest government-licensed medical cannabis production and export market”.

There has been controversy over two boys whose families want them to have legal access to cannabis-based products that are currently illegal in the UK. Six-year-old Alfie Dingley and 12-year-old Billy Caldwell both suffer multiple seizures every day because of rare and treatment-resistant forms of epilepsy.

The UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says the UK was the main producer and exporter of medical cannabis in 2016. The majority of it ended up in the US.

But virtually all of that is one drug – Sativex – used to treat muscle stiffness and spasms in people with multiple sclerosis. The Home Office doesn’t define it as cannabis – but the INCB does.

Sativex is available throughout the UK but only provided free on the NHS in Wales.

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British Sugar has a horticultural business close to its Wissington sugar beet plant

Cannabis, along with many of the more than 100 chemicals it’s made up of, is a controlled substance – possession and supply are punishable with fines and imprisonment.

The family of Alfie Dingley want permission to use cannabis oil from the whole plant, which they believe will work better than any legal alternative.

Cannabis is also being grown legally in the UK for another medicine, Epidiolex. This cannabis-based solution is currently being reviewed for the treatment of two rare forms of uncontrollable epilepsy, by medicine agencies in both the US and Europe. But it’s not yet available.

The specially bred type of cannabis plant used to make it is grown in a glasshouse in Wissington, Norfolk, by British Sugar – which also grows virtually all of the sugar beet in the UK.

British Sugar – whose managing director is Paul Kenward – has an exclusive deal with pharmaceutical company GW, which makes Epidiolex. Mr Kenward is married to drugs minister Victoria Atkins.

She was accused of “hypocrisy on a grand scale” over her husband’s involvement in a legal cannabis farm. She declared the interest in Parliament when she was appointed in 2017 and excused herself from speaking for the government on cannabis.

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GPs call for more help to tackle ‘epidemic of loneliness’

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Doctors say they are often “the only human contact” for chronically lonely patients

Doctors in Northern Ireland have called for more support to deal with patients who complain of loneliness, saying it has become a “public health epidemic”.

For lonely patients, the 10-minute GP appointment model is “unfit for purpose” said the Royal College of General Practitioners Northern Ireland.

RCGPNI said GPs need more time to care as they are sometimes “the only human contact” their lonely patients have.

It has launched a community action plan aimed at tackling loneliness.

‘All age groups’

The plan calls for GPs’ workload to be addressed so they are able to offer patients longer appointments when necessary.

This would involve training and employing more family doctors, to fill gaps in the workforce and relieve pressure on busy surgeries.

The plan also calls on local councils to provide a “regularly updated database” of community and voluntary sector projects that tackle social isolation.

Thirdly, RCGPNI suggests appointing “community navigators” who are able to advise patients on the support available and match them up to a scheme that suits their particular needs or age group.

The chair of RCGPNI, Dr Grainne Doran, said: “GPs acknowledge that they are seeing patients coming into them from all ages.

“We’re not talking just about lonely elderly, but young people and carers who are caring for their partners or dear ones, who are lonely within a household of other people.

“That is having a huge impact on their ability to access care and to look after themselves and their own well being.”

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Dr Grainne Doran said GPs need more time to listen to lonely patients and understand their concerns

RCGPNI said loneliness can seriously affect health and “puts people at a 50% increased risk of an early death”.

Five years ago, the Campaign to End Loneliness carried out a survey of more than 1,000 GPs across the the UK.

More than three quarters of the doctors said they dealt with between one and five patients every day who came into the surgery mainly because they were lonely.

‘Meaningful connection’

Dr Doran said the statistics showed that loneliness “has become a public health epidemic”.

“GPs and their teams have a key role to play in identifying people who are chronically lonely or who are at risk of becoming lonely” she said.

“All too often, GPs are the only human contact that chronically lonely patients have. These moments of meaningful connection matter.

“As family doctors, we believe that treating patients means listening to them and understanding their concerns – but GPs need time to care.”

However, she said tackling loneliness “is about more than medical care” and that was why the RCGPNI was introducing its community action plan.

“We know it can be hard for people who are lonely to know where to turn for support. That’s why we want to see a dedicated professional for every GP surgery – a community navigator.”

The RCGPNI has more than 1,300 members in Northern Ireland and represents GPs’ interests in issues including training and clinical standards.

Mum helps stop daughter being bullied for birthmark

Sophie Parker shares her story of being bullied for having a birthmark on her face.

Campaigners in court over NHS policy

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Getty Images

A judicial review by a group of campaigners challenging government health policy in England gets under way at the High Court later.

The group, which was backed by Prof Stephen Hawking before his death, are fighting the creation of accountable care organisations (ACOs).

These are to act as partnership bodies incorporating hospitals, community services and councils.

Campaigners say it risks privatisation, but this is denied by ministers.

NHS England wants hospitals and other trusts to work closely with GPs and social care services to look after more patients in their communities rather than in hospital.

In some areas, these groups are developing into ACOs – or integrated care organisations as they are sometimes known – which will hold contracts to provide services.

‘Irresponsible scaremongering’

Critics argue that this could pave the way for privatisation of parts of the NHS and that Parliament has not legislated to allow the process to happen.

The group bringing the case, which includes leading members of campaign groups Doctors for the NHS and Keep Our NHS Public, say an act of Parliament would be needed for the changes.

But the Department of Health and Social Care has said the claims are irresponsible scaremongering.

The department argues they are simply about making care more joined-up.

Ten areas have already started piloting accountable care systems, including Greater Manchester and Surrey, which are part of the government’s devolution programme.

Are we using too much Calpol?

Thousands of litres are sold in the UK every year but do we use it at the right times?

Are sweeteners healthier than sugar?

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We’re a sweet-toothed nation, eating far too much sugar for our own good.

A sugary diet can lead to weight gain and health problems such as type-2 diabetes, so none of us should be having more than the maximum seven teaspoons of sugar a day.

Public Health England wants our sugar intake from a host of popular foods to be cut by a fifth by 2020.

Part of the solution includes reformulating foods with sugar replacements.

Artificial sweeteners give a sweet taste with few or no calories.

But are they healthier?

What are sweeteners?

There are lots of different types in thousands of different products, including diet foods and drinks.

They all aim to do the same job of delivering sweetness in the place of sugar, meaning fewer calories.

Some, such as saccharin, sucralose, acesulfame K and aspartame, are intensely sweet in tiny doses, making them ideal for using in low-calorie soft drinks and sugar-free gum.

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Others, such as sorbitol and xylitol, are more bulky, like real sugar, so are useful as a replacement in products such as confectionary.

Should I use them?

Ask an expert and, frustratingly, most will say it should be down to “personal choice”.

Limiting how much sugar you eat is definitely a good thing – helping reduce your risk of diabetes, obesity and tooth decay.

When you consider that a regular can of cola contains about nine cubes of sugar – more than an adult’s daily allowance – having a diet version instead could make a difference.

Whether swapping sugar for a sweetener is truly healthy is harder to answer.

Certainly, eating low-sugar, low-calorie products is no guarantee that you will stay fit and slim. They are not a replacement for a healthy diet.

If they are artificial, doesn’t that make them unhealthy?

Many are synthetic, but some sweeteners may be made from naturally occurring substances. Stevia-based sweeteners are made from the leaves of a plant.

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Also, synthetic does not mean unhealthy.

By law, food or drink products must be clearly labelled and list on the packaging whether they contain low-calorie sweeteners, allowing consumers to make choices when they buy.

Will switching to sweeteners make me lose weight?

Reducing the calories you get from sugar can help with weight loss.

How much weight you will lose, however, depends on your overall diet and how much exercise you are getting, as well as your genetic make-up and metabolism.

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Dr Stacey Lockyer, from the British Nutrition Foundation, says switching to artificially sweetened, low-sugar foods and drinks might help some dieters.

“There are studies showing both in the short and long term that people who consume low-calorie versions in their diets take in fewer calories and do tend to lose weight.

“If you take drinks, for example, plain water is best – but some people might find it hard to switch from sugary drinks to water.

“They might want to consider having a diet or low-calorie drink if they like the taste.”

Are they safe?

Artificial sweeteners are closely regulated and have passed the necessary checks to be used in foods.

Food ingredient manufacturers have to provide evidence showing that their sweetener:

  • does not cause any adverse effects, including cancer
  • does not affect reproduction
  • is not stored within the body or metabolised into other potentially unsafe products
  • does not cause allergic reactions

The European Food Safety Authority sets an acceptable daily intake, which is the maximum amount considered safe to consume each day over the course of your lifetime.

And these limits are hard to bust.

Using the sweetener aspartame as an example, an “average” adult (weighing 70kg; 11 stone) could drink up to 14 cans of a sugar-free fizzy drink or use 40 teaspoons of the sweetener in their tea or coffee each day without exceeding the limit.

For a child (weighing 23kg), the equivalent maximum is four cans of drink and 13 teaspoons of sweetener.

What about nasty side-effects?

There has been lots of negative press about artificial sweeteners.

Some studies have claimed they might make people more hungry and upset blood-sugar levels, but there is no convincing evidence of harm.

There are some people who cannot or should not consume artificial sweeteners, however.

Children up to the age of three should not have them, but pregnant women can.

People born with a rare genetic condition called phenlyketonuria should avoid aspartame because it can be harmful to them.

For the rest of us, it is worth noting that consuming lots of them may cause flatulence and diarrhoea.

Can they help diabetes?

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate and because all carbohydrates affect blood-glucose levels, reducing your sugar intake can help to keep blood glucose levels under control.

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Diabetes UK says: “As sugar contributes no nutritive value, apart from carbohydrates and calories, it has ’empty calories’ and so is not good if you’re looking to manage your weight.

“This doesn’t mean that people with diabetes should have an entirely sugar-free diet.”